Destination: Budapest, Hungary
Recommended Airlines: Ryanair
Recommended Travel Agents: Mo’Jala Travel Consultancy https://www.instagram.com/mojalatravels/
Accommodation: City Hotel Budapest http://www.city-hotel.hu/
Attractions: Hungarian Opera House, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Szimpla Kert, Széchenyi Thermal Bath, Heroes’ Square, Budapest Eye in Erzsebet Square, House of Terror, Andrássy út, Buda Castle, Danube River, New York Palace, Buda Hill Funicular, Heroes’ Square and Budapest Chain Bridge.
Overall Experience Rating: 🎒🎒🎒
“…single Hungarian man, reveal yourself!”- The title of this post just doesn’t work if you don’t say it in the legendary voice of Paddy McGuiness. Apologies to my international readers, that was a reference to a popular dating show called Take Me Out, which once upon a time was an integral facet of mainstream British culture. But I digress.
In the early summer of 2017, one of my good girl friends and I took a 4 days/5 nights trip to the Hungarian capital; Budapest, a breath-taking city comprised of a two types of textured terrain. The Buda side is mountainous, featuring plenty of hills, cliffs and stairs (in other words, a compulsory workout), whereas the Pest side is predominantly flat land. As you can imagine, the latter allows for easier accessibility for tourists who are physically impaired or just don’t fancy upward inclines around every other corner. If this is applicable to you, I highly advise you to do prior research, clarify and book accommodation within the Pest.
Luckily for us, we were staying in a self-contained apartment at the City Hotel in Erzsébetváros (District 7), which is located on the Pest side. The hotel is perfectly situated in a central location, which is close to public transport (the tramline is practically down the road) supermarkets and corner shops (one is literally across the street) and eateries. It’s also quite straightforward for taxis to locate, which is a bonus. Despite the hotel feeling rather quaint, they had a herbaceous courtyard, with leafy green vines scaling across the burnt orange brick walls in every direction.
In juxtaposition, here are my main dislikes about our room/hotel: firstly, it was dimly lit, therefore taking selfies was a slightly problematic endeavour. Secondly, our room featured this bizarre wooden staircase leading to an attic-like fixture above our room. There was nothing particularly (spatially) wrong with it, but it reminded me of a haunted house or something of the sort, the deep red drapery didn’t help this horror movie association either. Another thing that I wasn’t a major fan of was their dining area… which was situated in reception (not next to, INSIDE) and simply consisted of a few tables and chairs cramped into this glaringly insufficient space. To make matters worse, their breakfast was the bare minimum of continental – in fact, “struggle continental” would be the most befitting term. Let’s just say we weren’t leaping out of our beds every morning out of excitement to go to breakfast… but a girl has got to eat.
Right, I know you guys didn’t solely click onto this blog post to read my breakfast rantings. So, here are:
5 things you should do in Budapest
(…and because your girl is the queen of efficiency, they’ve been ranked in order of h-enjoyment – thank me later)
- Danube River Cruise
One late afternoon, we went on a serene cruise down the Danube and by sheer luck, witnessed the sun setting on the scenic skylines of both the Buda and Pest sides. Coincidentally, this was on Solstice night (the longest day of summer) so all of the major monuments were lit up – two words: absolutely gorgeous! We saw the Széchenyi (Budapest) Chain Bridge, Petőfi Bridge, Liberty Statue, the glass CET Building fondly known as the Bálna (which is ‘whale’ in Hungarian) and my personal favourite – the Hungarian Parliament building, plus much more. I would definitely recommend adding it to your Budapest itinerary.
It would have been the most wholesome experience if we were not tried by this little boy who was working the dock (FYI: he was really a grown man, but since then he has been biologically demoted for his copious amounts of silliness). What did he do? Well, clutch onto your imaginary pearls guys. As law abiding citizens of the world, upon arriving at the dock, my friend and I joined the appropriate queue for our cruise. We get to the front of the line now and this man tells us to step aside and wait (as if that wasn’t what we had been doing for the past 10/15 minutes prior). Please bear in mind that he also refused to give us a valid explanation as to why; meanwhile, he proceeded to permit entry of people who were firstly, of a particular Caucasian persuasion and secondly, were originally BEHIND us. The disrespect. Same time, same ticket, same boat. No word of lie, this man didn’t let us (the only black people) onto the boat until the line was momentarily cleared and even then a much older woman had to prompt him in Hungarian to do so. In essence, although we got there on time and queued in a civilised manner, we were the last of that particular queue to board the boat. I 100% attribute it to nothing other than our glistening chocolate coloured skin.
Even once we were ‘all aboard’ and ready to move, the total ethnic composition of that cruise consisted of us and a South Asian family of 4. Come and see stares. Mainland Europe can be a bit different at times, boy…
- Buda Hill Funicular & Budapest Castle
There’s not much to the Buda Hill Funicular, it’s simply a quick and affordable means of transportation from Adam Clark Square to the top of Buda Castle. That being said, one of the reasons I thoroughly enjoyed the funicular’s very brief journey, is because of the spectacular views it offered. Just look…
- Szimpla Kert
Ah, the (in)famous ruin bar, a recipient of such mixed reviews – but now I definitely understand why. On one hand, it’s this unsaintly hub of organised chaos, partially attributed to the fact that over the years, it has progressively become the ‘home’ of ‘The Great British Lad Stag’ (which we saw in full effect ourselves).
And on the other, it’s a breeding ground for budding new connections, unsolicited conversation, animated storytelling and of course, harmless drunken behaviour. It is definitely a surreal and worthwhile experience. However, things you should know before going:
- There is usually a very long queue to enter due to crowd control. It’s a major tourist hotspot, so plan to get there at a reasonable time in the night in order to first, get in and second, to enjoy the experience to the fullest.
- The toilets are disgusting. I’m a bit of a hygiene freak so this might not bother everyone, but If you are like me, please drink sparingly and pray to the sanitation gods that you don’t have to ‘break the seal’ whilst you’re there.
- Contrary to popular belief, it’s not one massive bar – It’s a bunch of independent bars within a bar, make sense? They more or less have duplicated drink selections but with different prices and each bar has its own unique theme, aesthetic and vibe.
- As far as I recall, they don’t offer food. There are no nibbles for you to indulge in if you get peckish, so eat generously before you go and line your stomach. However, if things do go a bit belly up, there are a few fast food spots nearby.
- Cash is king, so take enough of it. It will save you a lot of headache in the long run.
- Szechenyi Thermal Bath
Despite a day ticket (with locker usage) only being approximately £15, in my honest opinion, I think the Szechenyi Thermal Bath is a bit of a rip off… and that’s me mincing my words. I really failed to see the hype or even the novelty of the experience. At first, it was nice to just sit back, relax and do nothing for 40 minutes or so, but after which it got very boring, very quickly. The fact that I can’t swim (please no abuse will be tolerated, lol) may have been a contributing factor, but I also had about 22 inches of straight virgin hair on my head which I wasn’t trying to get soaked (trust me, I thought about wearing a shower cap, but at the last minute decided against it).
Flashback to when I was compiling our trip itinerary, I came across the SPArty (https://spartybooking.com/ ). As the name suggests it’s a massive summer pool party hosted at that specific thermal bath. I think it would’ve been a much more lively and enjoyable contrast to Szechenyi during the day. The only reason we opted not to attend is because that one night would’ve blown our budgets out of the water. But definitely check it out and if it floats your boat, by all means splash that cash… ok, I’m going to stop with all the water puns now.
- House of Terror
When you think of 20th century fascism in mainland Europe, what’s the first country and regime that comes to mind? Nazi Germany, right? Of course, the harrowing tales of Anne Frank, which were taught so diligently throughout our formative school years and the gross images from concentration camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau which have been cemented into our memories. I’ve been to Poland and have visited that particular site, but that’s a whole other blog post for another day. But yet again, I digress.
The House of Terror
(http://www.terrorhaza.hu/hu/muzeum-tortenete) is situated on the most central street in Budapest – the Andrássy út. It’s a museum and memorial dedicated to victims of both the fascist and communist regimes which terrorised Hungary in the previous century.
Here is a brief synopsis of my visit: as soon as you walk in, on the ground floor, the first thing you are visually confronted with is a massive central wall, on which the faces of the victims are plastered across. Though uncomfortable, the message behind the piece is simultaneously poignant and powerful – it’s easy (and very human) to want to quantify things, particularly post-tragedy. However, these victims are not merely death toll numbers, they have faces, names and stories. Failure to retrospectively see them as human, does not only do their lives a disservice, but also their individual and shared struggle. In my opinion, this complex is applicable to a range of historical and contemporary inhumane, but very legal happenings, across the width and breadth of the world. One of my all-time favourite quotes encapsulates the human condition so accurately, it’s almost scary. It reads:
“We learn from history that we do not learn from history.”
― Georg Hegel
My primary and paramount piece of advice for those of you who want to visit the HoT is to please book an audio tour. There’s very minimal to no material that is in English, so in order for you to have the most informative experience, book it in advance.
…and because tis’ the season and what not, I’ve got two bonus recommendations for you all. If you get a little hungry whilst in Hungary, Gelarto Rosa has the sweet treats to keep you energised on your explorations. Listen, I’ve had a lot of gelato in this life, in various places across the world too, but Gelarto Rosa’s is definitely up there in my Top 3 (https://gelartorosa.com/en/). Alternatively, when the sun sets and you’re in the mood for something sweet but also packs a bit of an ‘adult’ punch, hit up Tuk Tuk Bar for the best cocktails in town (https://www.tuktukbar.hu/). You will not regret it.
To conclude, I know I’ve been MIA for a while (understatement of the year), but let’s make this a bit more interactive, shall we? If you’re planning to visit Budapest soon, I hope this post has given you a few activity ideas. But if you’ve already visited, drop a comment and share your experience. I promise you, no two trips are the same.
I also want to take this opportunity to wish you all a fabulous and flights-filled 2019!
The Black Girl and her Backpack
Wait, before you go, If you aren’t already following me on the ‘gram, make that a pre-new year’s resolution and follow my shenanigans (both home and abroad) @theblackgirlandherbackpack …please and thank you xxx